MISSION OAK FINISH
by Jeff Jewitt
The traditional method of finishing oak in the mission or Craftsman style involved exposing the furniture to very strong ammonia fumes in an airtight chamber. Ammonia fuming was preferred by Stickley because it colored the glassy ray fleck cells as well as the softer wood, establishing an even tone throughout the wood. An alternative method which yields excellent results is based on the steps above. It differs from fuming in that it will highlight the ray fleck on quartersawn wood.
Proper surface preparation is of utmost importance in finishing oak. Sand the wood to 150 grit and pre-raise the grain with distilled water. Sand with 180 grit when dry and remove all the dust from the pores. You can use a brush or vacuum, but I find blasting it with compressed air the best. The pores must be clean and free of all sawdust before proceeding so check the surfaces carefully.
Step One - Staining
You can leave the wood unstained if you wish, but I like to apply a dye to establish the predominate undertone of the piece. This can range anywhere from a light tan colored dye to a dark reddish brown. Like above, it's important to experiment on scraps and carry the finish all the way to the end. This is the only way to tell if the color of the dye is right. Apply the dye by flooding all surfaces and blot up the excess. Let it dry 8 hours before scuff sanding with 320 grit sandpaper followed by a light rubbing with maroon synthetic steel wool.
Step Two - Oiling
Oil the wood after the dye is dry by applying a small amount of linseed oil with a rag. Let it dry several hours. Dispose of the rag properly as explained above. Lightly scuff sand the surface with maroon synthetic steel wool. NOTE: This step is optional. It imparts a little more depth to the finish.
Step Three - Sealing
Apply two coats of a 2-lb. cut shellac. You can use any colored shellac you wish, either garnet, amber or light. Scuff sand between coats with 320 grit paper. Vacuum all the dust from the pores before the next step.
Step Four - Glazing
The importance of this step cannot be stressed enough. One of the qualities that make oak attractive is its large pores. By emphasizing these pores with a dark glaze, the true Mission effect is achieved. Stickley did this with black wax, but I prefer to use an oil-based glaze. Take one cup of Van Dyke brown glaze and mix in 1/2 cup black glaze. This is a very dark glaze so you may find dilution of the glaze with mineral spirits is necessary. Apply the glaze with a stiff bristle brush, working it across the grain to make sure it gets into the pores. Wipe the excess off with a dry rag. If the color is too dark, or it dries quickly, apply some mineral spirits to the rag to help remove the glaze. Let the glaze dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Step Five - Sealing
I believe that oak looks best with as little finish as possible, so I apply only one coat of shellac to seal the glaze in. If more durability is required a thinned coat of varnish or lacquer can be applied over the shellac. I don't recommend applying varnish directly over the dried glaze, it tends to pull up too much of the glaze. Spraying the finish over the glaze is best, since this will minimize any removal of the glaze.
Step Six - Waxing
Apply a paste wax to the furniture after the final coat is dry. Use a dark wax on the dark finishes and apply with 0000 steel wool. Buff the wax as soon as it hazes over to leave a soft sheen.
Jeff Jewitt is a finisher, writer and teacher from North Royalton Ohio. In addition to running a full-time finishing shop, he has written numerous articles on finishing for Fine Woodworking, American Woodworker, Popular Woodworking, Woodshop News and Professional Refinishing Magazine. He is currently a technical editorial advisor for Professional Refinishing magazine, acted as a consultant for large finishing companies and has developed finishing products which are sold all over the world under the Homestead name. He is the author of Hand Applied Finishes and two videos, Coloring Wood and Applying Topcoats (Taunton Press) and is currently working on a new book due out in late 1999.
Jeff Jewitt owns and operates Homestead Finishing Products – featuring hard-to-find traditional finishing products. 5 Grades of dry shellac, oils, varnishes, brushes and their own exclusive line of dyes make Homestead Finishing Products a must for every restorers supply needs. Excellent technical advice. Also available are Jeffs Book Hand Applied Finishes, and two videos, Coloring Wood and Applying Topcoats winners or the 1997 Stanley Award for best How-To book and video.